Why your clients won't pay you what you know you need to charge

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I’ll bet you’d like to make photography your full-time job. If you’ve already made that transition, then I’ll bet you’d like to have a long-term successful career, making a great living with your camera. There’s one foundational element that is crucial in order to have a sustainable career as a photographer.

I’ll bet you’d like to make photography your full-time job. Or, if you’ve already made that transition, I’ll bet you’d like to have a long-term successful career and make a great living with your camera. Am I right?

There’s one simple foundational element that is crucial in order to have a sustainable career as a photographer …

… But first, I need to tell you something. I’ve made a mistake. Let me explain.

The mechanics are only one piece of the puzzle

You know I love the nitty-gritty. The actionable steps. The how-to advice, the processes and the 1–2–3’s.

I teach mechanics and tactics. Specifics. Concrete ideas. No fluff. That’s what we’re all about here.

One of my main areas of expertise, and a topic that I often teach about, is pricing. More specifically, the mechanics of pricing. I know, I’m an anomaly; I love the nitty-gritty of pricing.

But that’s where I may have made a mistake and may not have been entirely clear with you. I sometimes forget that knowing how to price yourself is only a small piece of the puzzle.

I have written about pricing from every angle and have broken it down into easy-to-understand, step-by-step formulas. I have shown you exactly how to price your photography.

And maybe you still haven’t implemented these changes yet. Either way, if you’re still reading this, my guess is that you’re still not entirely happy with your pricing. Why though?

Your decisions are rooted in your beliefs

I asked you at the beginning of this article whether you wanted to make a living in photography and whether you wanted a long-term sustainable career. I assume your answer was “yes” because you’re still with me.

Well, remember I mentioned that there’s one foundational element that must be in place in order to be sustainable? That one element is your pricing.

Your pricing affects everything, and dictates whether you can make a living from photography. Your prices determine how much you get paid, and how much you get paid determines whether or not photography can support you.

This is where my mistake has been. I have gone deep into the mechanics of pricing (the how), but I haven’t gone deep enough into the mindset of pricing (the why).

The “why” must come first. You must believe in an idea before you can implement it. And I bet the reason you haven’t fully implemented the right pricing structure is because you don’t believe you can. 

Maybe you haven’t realized how important pricing yourself properly is. You know you’d like to make more money, but you still have doubts, don’t you? I haven’t fully addressed those doubts yet or gone deep into the mindset of pricing … until now.

The mindset of “Pricing for Profit”

This article is my answer to that “why” question. This article is the prequel to everything else I’ve ever done (and will do) on pricing. This article is about the mindset of Pricing for Profit.

First, what the heck is Pricing for Profit? It’s an approach to pricing yourself for sustainability. And by sustainability, I mean it’s literal definition: able to be maintained or kept going. Pricing for Profit enables you to maintain being a professional photographer, it allows you to keep going, because you’re able to support yourself, your lifestyle and your family, with your camera.

Let’s quickly dispel some myths and set the record straight.

Pricing for Profit is not gauging your clients or being unreasonable with your prices. It isn’t about being expensive or being pushy or sales-y. It isn’t about being tricky and setting your clients up for a bait-and-switch. It isn’t charging more so you can do less. It isn’t about raising your price for no reason, and it certainly isn’t about artificially inflating your prices.

And so while that explains what Pricing for Profit is not about, let’s look at what Pricing for Profit is all about:

Pricing for Profit is about being reasonable. It is about putting in an honest days work for an honest days pay. It is about being sustainable as a photographer. It is about long-term success. It is about happy clients. It is about charging what you’re worth and giving great value in return. It is about knowing why you charge what you charge and about making smart, strategic, calculated decisions.

Does that help? I hope so. And I hope you’re warming up to the idea of pricing yourself to be profitable.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Maybe you still have doubts and concerns, though.

Over the years, I have taught the Pricing for Profit approach to thousands of photographers, and the self-doubts are always the same. In fact, the reason that most photographers don’t charge what they should comes down to only a handful of reasons.

I’ll bet your reason isn’t all that unique. I’ll bet that you’re telling yourself one of these stories:

  1. You don’t know how to set up your prices properly.
  2. You’re afraid (of change, of losing business, etc).
  3. You’re too close to your art, and charging for something so personal is difficult for you.
  4. Your clients think you’re not worth it.
  5. Your clients are price sensitive.
  6. You wouldn’t pay the prices you know you need to charge.

Well … do any of these (or all of them) sound familiar?

Before going on, let me re-work #4 and #5 though, because I doubt your clients actually tell you that you’re not worth it, and I bet they’ve never told you straight-up that all they care about is the price. These are just assumptions that you’re making up. So instead, #4 should be more like: you think that your clients think that you’re not worth it. And #5 should be: you think that your clients are price sensitive.

Do you see the pattern in these excuses? I do. It’s that you are the common denominator!

You are afraid of change. You feel too close to your art. You think your clients think a certain way. You wouldn’t pay your prices.

It all comes back to you. The only thing stopping you from charging the prices you know you should is you. Yes, you. You are in your own way. Every single reason above (except that you don’t know how to price properly, which we’ll get to later) are just stories that you’re telling yourself as to why you can’t (or more specifically, won’t) charge appropriate prices.

You’ve put yourself in gridlock. You know what you should do with your prices, but you won’t let yourself do it. Because you’re afraid.

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I’ve talked about fear before on the blog, but it bears repeating again here. Fear is that feeling you get before you have a breakthrough. Fear is an indication that something great is just around the corner.

Steven Pressfield puts it best in his book the War of Art, when he describes fear:

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

What I am saying is that it is ok to be afraid. It’s ok to have fear. Push through it, though, and you’ll be happy with what you find on the other side.

Your 5 new realities

There are 5 realities that you must come to terms with that might help you get over your own self-doubt. These are 5 fundamental mindset shifts that will allow you to finally break free and move into a completely new space. These 5 realities are the why to Pricing for Profit: why you should, why you must, and why you can.

(And yes, this is my way of 1–2–3’ing a mindset discussion. I’m still a mechanics guy … I can’t help it!)

Reality #1: You are worth it

You have studied photography intensely. You have trained long and hard. You have practiced obsessively. You have put hours into your growth. You have spent thousands of dollars on your equipment, and hundreds of hours (if not thousands) perfecting how you use it all.

And you’ll still keep studying. You’re still training. You’re still practicing. Your still spending. Your still perfecting.

Let me pause for a moment. I am making a pretty big assumption here. I’m assuming that you actually have studied, trained, practiced, perfected and put in the time.

Let’s be clear – Pricing for Profit is not a “get rich quick” scheme, and it certainly isn’t a shortcut.

Before you can price yourself for profit, you really must put in the time and learn your craft. Solid business skills will only carry you as far as your photography skills will allow them to. So, I’m assuming that from this point forward, you actually have put in the time and honed your craft.

Let’s carry on …

Accept the reality that you are a photographer. 

And you’re a decent photographer, at that. Sure, you still have lots to learn, lots of room to grow and a lot that you aren’t confident with. But that’s ok. Growth is a part of the process. You’ll never stop growing. It’s ok to be self-conscious when you compare yourself within our industry. It’s natural. But look outside of our industry and you’ll see that you are a good photographer.

In fact, you’re actually better than 99.9% of people. And I literally mean that statistic. Let me prove it …

There are roughly 530 million people in North America. According to research we’ve had done through a local business incubator, there are around 150,000 professional photographers in North America, and let’s say that there are just as many who are not registered. So there’s 300,000 professional photographers in North America. Let’s also say that there are just as many amateur photographers as there are professionals.

This means that there are 600,000 photographers in North America who can take a decent picture, at least better than the average person with an iPhone. So, even if you are the worst photographer of all those 600,000 photographers (which you aren’t), then you’re still better than the other 529.4 million people in North America.

So there you go. You are in the top 0.1% of people in North America at taking pictures.

Pretty staggering, right?

What I’m trying to get across here is that you are good at what you do, so have some confidence! Don’t get too over-confident, though, because ego is a proven path for self-destruction. Become ok with charging appropriate prices, because you are worth it.

Reality #2: Your clients expect to pay

We are in the middle of the winter months here in Canada, and so at the beginning of the season, I decided I would get winter tires put on my car. It was my first time, and I had no idea what I was looking for, so I called my auto mechanic and asked them how much winter tires were.

Side-note: price wasn’t my main concern, but I didn’t know what else to ask for, so I defaulted to asking about price. There’s a hidden secondary lesson: your clients don’t only care about price, they just don’t know what else to ask about.

My mechanic asked me some more qualifying questions, did some research into my car, what was available, what would best suit my needs and then walked me through all the options.

Another side-note: Does this sound like a similar process we should be going through, too? Answer: Yes!

After my mechanic laid everything out on the table, and I decided what tire I was going to go with, he said:

“Great, Bryan! Bring your car in whenever you can. We’ll take one of our mechanics away from whatever he’s doing and install your tires for you. For FREE! Don’t worry about paying a dime. Oh yeah, and we’ll store your all-season tires here for you for free too.”

…. NOT!

Of course he didn’t offer to do my tires for free!

Of course he had to charge me labour. Of course I had to pay for the tires. Of course I had to make an appointment. Of course I had to be inconvenienced and wait while it was being done.

That’s how business works. You give money, you get something in exchange for it. And your photography is no different. Why would anyone think otherwise?

Here’s one startling realization: your clients expect to pay for your photography.

… No different than how I expected to pay for the tires.

When a client calls you, they are basically saying “I need photography. You do photography. I have money. Let’s talk.”, and yet so often I hear photographers telling themselves stories about how everyone wants them to work for free. No they don’t! That’s either something you’re making up in your own head, or it’s something you’re allowing them to do. So stop it!

People want and expect to pay you for your photography, so let them. Get yourself out of the way.

Reality #3: Your clients will pay what they think you’re worth

Not only do your clients want to pay you, but they want to pay you fairly. Honestly … they do. It’s another fundamental principle of business and commerce.

Sure, people want the best “deal”, but what does that really even mean? Basically, it means that they want to receive a value that is higher than what they pay for.

(By the way, this is the topic of discussion in an article I wrote this past week. You should check it out. In fact, I make the case for why you should be the cheapest photographer in your town. Don’t believe me? Check it out!)

The lesson here is this – your clients will pay you what they think you’re worth. Therefore, if you want to charge what you know you’re worth, you have to show your clients that you’re worth it. Want to charge more? Then show that you’re worth more!

Reality #4: You must charge properly

Let me be frank for a moment here. If you have any desire to make a living in photography, or make any kind of money with your camera, then you have no choice but to charge appropriate prices.

It really is as simple as that. If you don’t charge properly, then you have nothing but an expensive hobby.

Reality #5: You are not your client

This one is a quick reality, but one worth bringing up. Many photographers say that they wouldn’t pay the prices they charge, and that’s ok, because you don’t have to be your client. You don’t have to be able to afford yourself. You do not have to be the kind of person you’re targeting with your business.

This quote sums it up well – don’t make other people’s decisions using your wallet.

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Still struggling with the mechanics of pricing?

There we have it … that’s the “why” to pricing. I hope you’re on board with making a change, and finally adopting the Pricing for Profit model. I hope that the discussions here helped you take notice of the stories that you are telling yourself, and that the 5 realities helped you in combating them with the real truth.

So, we’ve slashed every excuse as to why you aren’t charging the prices you know you should … except for one. The one that I said we’d come back to, and that is that perhaps you literally don’t know how to charge the right prices.

Well, let me help you with that. I have an upcoming webinar with ShootDotEdit where you’ll learn the exact step-by-step process for Pricing for Profit. You can sign up for FREE here.

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I have also written about the topic of pricing, in-depth, here on SproutingPhotographer.com. Sure, I’ve written a whole book on it, but this isn’t a sales pitch. You can grab it if you want, but I’ve written lots of free content online for you, too.

Here is a comprehensive list of the FREE resources available to you that I’ve written on the topic of pricing.

I promise that if you dedicate the next hour to reading all these articles above, then you will know everything you need to know about exactly how to price your photography.

So, now that we’ve checked all the boxes and slashed every excuse as to why you aren’t charging what you know you should be, there’s only thing left … Action! Massive amounts of action!

Get on your comfy pants. Roll up your sleeves. Dig in deep. Make the changes. You can do this!

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